Expanding Socio-Environmental Science Investigations with Geospatial Technologies in High Schools

Expanding Socio-Environmental Science Investigations with Geospatial Technologies in High Schools


This project aims to develop high school students' and teachers' understandings of and skills in geospatial technologies in order to improve STEM literacy and access to the STEM workforce. Researchers collaborate with teachers in six different high schools to develop new teaching materials that use geospatial technologies such as geographic information systems (GIS) and GPS-enabled iPads or other mobile devices. Students use these tools to investigate local social and/or environmental topics, such as the urban heat island effect, civic impacts of urban trees, or carbon costs of different transportation systems. Each investigation involves student data collection, data visualization, and analysis, combining both students' own data and data from other sources--such as local governments, federal agencies, or researchers. The investigation concludes with students proposing a change in their communities, such as adding or re-allocating urban greenspace or expanding bike trails or pedestrian access to bridges. Each investigation is aligned to local curriculum and standards. As students complete these investigations, they (a) learn about geospatial tools and careers, (b) develop spatial thinking and reasoning skills, and (c) become motivated to pursue STEM-related college and career paths. The teachers also enhance their skills, particularly their understanding and use of geospatial tools and data sets. This project increases the reach and the diversity of the STEM pipeline in geospatial fields directly--by working with approximately 1500 students across the 6 high schools--and indirectly--through the teacher training and professional development, continuing to impact students beyond the lifespan of the project.

This project extends the work of a previous ITEST award that established a model for the co-design, development, and implementation of local socio-environmental science investigations (SESI) using a geospatial curriculum. The learning activities provided opportunities for students to collaborate, seek evidence, problem-solve, master technology, develop geospatial thinking and reasoning (GTR) skills, and practice communication skills, all of which are essential for the STEM workforce. This project uses an adapted form of the original SESI model to work with a larger and more varied group of high school students across three different regions: urban areas in Delaware and Pennsylvania (Lehigh University), rural Washington state (Washington State University Tri-Cities), and urban Texas (Texas Christian University). At each of these sites, university faculty collaborate with two high schools to form a Research-Practice Partnership (RPP) to co-design, develop, and implement SESI activities embedded within the school?s regular curriculum. Student outcomes consist of geospatial thinking and reasoning skills (assessed via a performance task), STEM college and career interest (adapted career inventory), and spatial learning attitudes (adapted learning preferences questionnaire). Subgroups for analysis include engaged versus unengaged learners--that is, those who complete all required assignments and projects versus those who do not. Student outcomes on college and career interest and spatial learning attitudes are compared to those of a control group, drawn from a similar population (same school or same district). Teacher outcomes include their geospatial technology use and knowledge, measured by the Geospatial Science Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge questionnaire. The research also examines impacts within each school and each RPP. The project contributes to the knowledge base on geospatial curriculum design and development in a variety of settings (urban, suburban, rural), student outcomes from curriculum-aligned geospatial tools use, teacher professional development on geospatial technology integration, integration of geospatial tool usage across different units of high schools (different academic departments, different support services such as ESL and special education), and the formation and function of RPPs centered on curriculum-aligned geospatial education.


Principal Investigator(s): 

Co-Principal Investigator(s): 


Award Number: 

1949388 1949400 1949393


2020 - 2024


Texas Christian University .
Lehigh University .
Washington State University .

Project Status: